GEORGE OHR

George Ohr (1857-1918) the self-proclaimed “Mad Potter of Biloxi” created a body of ceramic work which defied the aesthetic conventions of 19th century America. Ohr is considered an early leader in the modernist movement and it is his creative spirit which informs the mission of the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum. His extraordinary cultural legacy is recognized for its power and integrity and for its important influence on 20th and 21st century art. Ohr’s work was rediscovered in the 1960s and is admired by artists and collectors alike.

In May 2009, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York celebrated the opening of the Robert Ellison Art Pottery Collection on the Mezzanine Balcony of the New American Wing prominently featuring selected works by George Ohr. As Ohr had often predicted, his genius was at long last recognized by the world. Over ninety years after Ohr’s death, it is a fitting tribute to the artist that one of the 21st century’s most admired architects, Frank Gehry, created the Museum’s award winning design.

– from Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art website

George Edgar Ohr : A Timeline
born 1850
1870s: The Meyer family exposed George Ohr to the pottery trade.
1879: Joseph Fortune Meyer invited George Ohr to be an apprentice at his family’s pottery in New Orleans.
1881 – 1882: George Ohr jumped aboard a freight train and left New Orleans to take a zig-zag journey through 16 states to visit all the potters and potteries he could find.
1882: Ohr returned to New Orleans and took a job at the William Virgin Pottery.
1883: Ohr went home to Biloxi and built his first pottery building, using his meager savings of $26.80 and lots of ingenuity and entrepreneurship. He then began to create his first pottery, digging his clay from the nearby Tchouttacabouffa River.
1884 – Spring 1885: Ohr took pottery to the World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition in New Orleans, Louisiana. Approximately 600 pots disappeared when he hired someone to return his pottery to Biloxi. These pots have never been located.
September 15, 1886: George Ohr and Josephine Gehring, also of German descent, were married in Biloxi and moved into his parents’ home on Delauney Street.
1888: Ohr built a new two-story workshop on his father’s property. Later in 1888: George Ohr was invited by Joseph Meyer to assist him at the Ladies Art League in New Orleans.
January 18, 1889: The Ohrs’ second child, Asa Eugene, was born.
June 1891: George Ohr began to refer to himself as an art potter, as inscribed on a ewer dated June 20, 1891.
June 1892: Ohr made the monumental urn, dated June, 15, 1892.
May – October 1893: The World’s Columbian Exposition opened in Chicago. George Ohr displayed his pottery and novelty items and was able to experience art from all over the world.
1894: George Ohr had become an attraction on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; an article in the New Orleans Daily Picayune described his pottery as having already been visited by people from every state of the union.
October 12, 1894: Ohr’s pottery was destroyed in a fire that began at the Bijou Oyster Saloon. Ohr experienced total loss, but was too attached to his “burned babies” to part with them.
Late 1894 – 1895: Ohr built a small home and 5-story pagoda-style pottery called “Biloxi Art Pottery Unlimited.”
September 18, 1895: The Cotton States and International Exposition opened in Atlanta, Georgia. George Ohr took his assistant, Harry Portman, who he thought of as a foster son, to the fair. Portman assisted Ohr in decorating and sign painting until 1907.
1896: The Wonderful Wheel, a novel based on a character similar to George Ohr, was published by Century Books, New York.
March 18, 1896: Actor Joseph Jefferson visited Ohr’s studio and created an inscription on one of Ohr’s pots. Ohr created what we now refer to as “Jefferson Mugs” in his honor.
Early 1897: Editor of Brick, a trade periodical, visited Ohr to write a story entitled “A Biloxi Pottery.”
1897: A despondent Jules Gabry, the first Newcomb potter, moved in with the Ohr family in Biloxi and committed suicide on August 18.
December 22, 1898: An article, “High Art in Biloxi, Miss.” appeared in a New York newspaper.
April 1899: Ohr was pictured in his studio in China, Glass and Pottery Review.
Summer 1899. Ohr sent eight pieces of pottery to the Smithsonian; the pottery was treated carelessly and was stored for over 50 years. The chipped and broken pottery was not accessioned for 87 years.
January 1900: The Exhibition of American Ceramics was held at the National Arts Club; Ohr was quoted by Keramic Studio as showing quaint pottery reminiscent of the Aztecs. The article also described Ohr as being conceited.
April 1900: Paris Exposition Universalle of 1900 opened; Ohr’s pottery was represented and he later received an order from a collector in Paris.
January 1901: An Art Interchange article entitled “Biloxi Pottery” praised the pottery of George Ohr and stated that “the potter dreams of fame, not riches.”
March 1901: Sixteen pieces of Ohr pottery were shown at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition of the Providence Art Club of Rhode Island.
May 1901: The Pan-American Exposition opened in Buffalo, New York; Ohr probably did not attend but his pottery was on display.
1901: Edwin Atlee Barber’s second edition of The Pottery and Porcelain of the United States was published. Ohr’s pottery was quoted as being “in some respects, one of the most interesting in the United States . . .”
June 1901: Crockery and Glass Journal published several short articles about Ohr, as well as a letter that expressed his resentment at not being able to sell his work to one entity.
1901: Ohr begins to glaze fewer and fewer pieces of pottery.
1902: William Jervis, in the Encyclopedia of Ceramics, stated that George Ohr was saving his art to be purchased in entirety by the nation.
1903: Ohr renounces glazes in favor of a free-form more sculptural pottery.
July 1903: House Beautiful published “Some Recent Arts and Crafts Work” by Isabel McDougal; she described Ohr’s home as being filled with “monkey jars.”
April 30, 1904: The Louisiana Purchase International Exposition opened in St. Louis. Missouri. Ohr’s work was displayed in the Mines and Metallugy Building. More emphasis was placed on individual artists rather than pottery firms and Ohr was awarded a silver medal.
1905: The United States Potters’ Association requested that Ohr send work for a display in Washington, D. C. Ohr expressed that “ . . . it is as easy to pass judgment on my productions from four pieces as it would be to take four lines from Shakespeare and guess the rest.”
1905 – 1907: Ohr experimented with different types of clay with which he continued to create his unique bisque pottery.
1906: George and Josephine became involved in a dispute with George’s siblings over his siblings’ desire to sell the family land. The dispute continued for years.
March 13, 1906: A selection of pottery was offered as a gift to the Smithsonian Institution by the Art and Design Committee of the United States Potters’ Association, including a group of pots by George Ohr. The United States National Museum accepted one vase made by Ohr, but returned the rest.
1906: Ohr sent 50 pieces of pottery to the Delgado Art Museum in New Orleans. Because only 12 pieces were selected for exhibition, Ohr demanded that the museum return all the pottery.
June 1907: Della McLeod’s article for the Memphis Commercial Appeal stated Ohr’s claim that his greatness should be attributed to the originality of his shapes and that his beautiful glazes are merely the result of accidents.
1909: Ohr began to slowly give up making pottery.
April 3, 1909: Due to his anger over the ongoing land dispute, George Ohr faced a lunacy hearing and was determined to be sane.
September 6, 1909: Ohr was arrested for protesting the sale of his parents’ land at auction.
Fall 1909: George Ohr was jailed for a dispute over a drainage project.
April 1910: George Ohr still quoted his occupation as “art potter with own shop” for the census.
1910: Ohr’s last pot was created. George closed his pottery studio. His sons re-opened it as the “Ohr Boys Auto Repairing Shop.” Ohr was quoted as being ill with catarrhal fever (chronic inflammation of the air passages).
Ohr arrested for his public anger because his family’s property was resold by the buyer at a huge profit.
Ohr created his controversial Mardi Gras float.
1916: Joseph Fortune Meyer and his wife bought a lot on Deer Island in Mississippi Sound from the Deer Island Improvement Company, where they escaped New Orleans city life to make pottery, observe nature and enjoy the serene island life. It is rumored that George Ohr rowed a boat out to visit the Meyers on the Island.
December 1917: Ohr went to Chicago to confirm a prior throat cancer diagnosis by a New Orleans doctor.
April 7, 1918: George Ohr died at 3:10 AM on a Sunday morning.
October 1, 1922: Lyle Saxon writes extensively of Ohr’s pottery cache in New Orleans’ The Times-Picayune, and of Josephine Ohr’s attempt to sell the pottery at her house on Delauney Street in Biloxi.
March 17, 1930: George Ohr’s wife Josephine died. She was buried alongside George in the Biloxi Cemetery.
1961: Jim Carpenter purchased an Ohr puzzle mug at an antiques shop in Port Jervis, New York, unaware at the time of the treasure he found.
1962: Robert Blasberg began serious exploration of the art pottery movement nationwide.
1965: The first Gulf Coast Ceramics Exhibition, at Edgewater Mall in Biloxi was organized by Delores (“Bobby”) Davidson Smith. The Ohr family loaned 150 pots for the show.
1966 – 1969: Robert Blasberg and Bobby Davidson Smith corresponded about Ohr pottery.
1967: Robert Blasberg and Paul Cox, then 88 years of age, corresponded.
October 6, 7 & 8, 1967: The Second Gulf Coast Ceramics Exhibition was held at Edgewater Mall in Biloxi, where George Ohr’s pottery was again shown to the public.
1967: This was perhaps Jim Carpenter’s and his wife Miriam’s first visit to Biloxi. They did not attend the Gulf Coast Ceramics Exhibition.
1969: Jim Carpenter met Geo, Ojo and Leo Ohr and Geo’s wife Iola.
August 17, 1970: The Ohrs’ son Leo E. Ohr died.
Winter 1970: Jim Carpenter began negotiations with the Ohr family about George Ohr’s pottery.
1972: Jim and Miriam (“Mim”) Carpenter purchased approximately 7,000 Ohr pots from Ojo Ohr.
May 1972: Ralph and Terry Kovel published their first article about George Ohr in The Western Collector.
1972 – 1973: George Ohr’s pottery was cleaned by Mim Carpenter. Lola Marion of Biloxi spoke of having purchased over 100 pots to bring them “back to Mississippi”.
1973: The original George Ohr and His Biloxi Art Pottery by Robert W. Blasberg was published by James W. Carpenter.
1973: George Ohr’s pots began to appear in shops in the New York area.
January 1974: George Ohr pottery purchased from Jim Carpenter by Ralph and Terry Kovel was pictured in The Kovels’ Collector’s Guide to American Art Pottery
February 23, 1974: The Ohrs’ son Geo E. Ohr died.
April 21 – May 31, 1978: The first exhibition of George Ohr’s pottery was held at the Mississippi State Historical Museum in Jackson, Mississippi.
April 19, 1982: The Ohrs’ son Oto T. Ohr died.
July 24, 1986: The Ohrs’ son Ojo J. Ohr died.
1986: The Unknown Ohr by Robert W. Blasberg was published.
1989: The Mad Potter of Biloxi: The Art and Life of George E. Ohr by Garth Clark, Robert A. Ellison, Jr. and Eugene Hecht was published.
1989: The Mississippi Museum of Art placed 12 pieces of Ohr pottery in the new satellite branch in Biloxi.
November 29, 1989: The Ohrs’ daughter Clo L. Ohr died.
1992: The Mad Potter of Biloxi documentary premiered on Mississippi ETV.
1994: The Mississippi Museum of Art satellite museum closed. The Biloxi-based George E. Ohr Arts and Cultural Center opened in the same location.
1994: After the Fire – George Ohr: An American Genius by Eugene Hecht, PhD was published.
1997: The museum Board of Trustees began plans for growth.
1998: The family of Jeremiah O’Keefe donated $1 million to the museum in memory of Annette Rose O‘Keefe. Architect Frank Gehry agreed to design the new museum.

This information was extracted from a timeline compiled by Barbara Ross, Curator of Collections, Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art